Activation Pathways and Free Energy Landscapes of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein.

ACS Omega
Yichao WuWei Wang

Abstract

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) uses a spike protein (S-protein) to recognize the receptor protein ACE2 of human cells and initiate infection, during which the conformational transition of the S-protein from inactive (down) state to active (up) state is one of the key molecular events determining the infectivity but the underlying mechanism remains poorly understood. In this work, we investigated the activation pathways and free energy landscape of the S-protein of SARS-CoV-2 and compared with those of the closely related counterpart SARS-CoV using molecular dynamics simulations. Our results revealed a large difference between the activation pathways of the two S-proteins. The transition from inactive to an active state for the S-protein of SARS-CoV-2 is more cooperative, involving simultaneous disruptions of several key interfacial hydrogen bonds, and the transition encounters a much higher free energy barrier. In addition, the conformational equilibrium of the SARS-CoV-2 S-protein is more biased to the inactive state compared to that of the SARS-CoV S-protein, suggesting the transient feature of the active state before binding to the receptor protein of the host cell. The key interactions contribu...Continue Reading

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